Who's Who - Arthur Balfour

Photograph of Lord Balfour Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) succeeded his uncle, Lord Salisbury, who had been his political mentor and champion.  However, his initial interests were not political.  He enjoyed music and poetry, and was first known as a renowned philosopher, publishing A Defence of Philosophic Doubt, The Foundations of Belief, and Theism and Humanism.

In 1874 he was elected the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hertford.  Four years later he became private secretary to Salisbury, then Foreign Secretary in Disraeli's government, and accompanied them both to the Congress of Berlin.

In 1885 Balfour was a member of Randolph Churchill's "Fourth Party" group (distinct from the Conservatives, Libs and Irish Nationalists), which brought down Gladstone's government with a motion opposing the Home Rule for Ireland Bill.

Later, he joined the Cabinet as Secretary for Scotland and then for Ireland under Salisbury.  Despite widespread scepticism that he was up to the gruelling job of Irish Secretary, Balfour proved to be a tough incumbent, restoring the rule of law.  His land development legislation was considered well judged, and has been credited with calming the Irish conflict for a generation.

In 1891 Balfour became First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the Commons, and gained the same positions again on the Conservatives' re-election in 1895.  When his uncle retired, he himself became Prime Minister.

His principal concerns were education and defence.  There was, he believed, "no more serious waste than the waste of brains and intellect".  He gave local authorities responsibility for elementary education, and set up the Committee for Imperial Defence to ensure readiness for future wars.

But his cabinet split on the free trade issue, and his relations with the king were poor.  Defeats in the Commons and in by-elections led to his resignation in December 1905.  In the subsequent Liberal landslide, Balfour lost his own seat, but returned via a by-election soon after.  He continued to lead his party until 1911.

But despite stepping down, his career was far from over.  He became First Lord of the Admiralty in the wartime coalition, and then Foreign Secretary.  At this time he wrote the Balfour Declaration of "a recognition of the right to a Jewish state in Palestine".  For the greater part of the 1920s he was Lord President of the Council until the Baldwin government fell in 1929.  He died the following year.

Article courtesy of 10 Downing Street website.

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